I’m sitting here in front of a candle I lit for Juliette tonight. She left us nine years ago today.
Every year other than the first we’ve tried to do something special for this worst of days. The original idea was Elodie’s. She hated being around emotional adults so we made a rule not to cry, but to celebrate Juliette’s spirit by having fun for a few hours. It sounds quite desperate put like that, and probably was.
Juliette was a little girl who looked for adventure in everything. Television bored her. Her morning mantra was, “I want to do something exciting today.” We couldn’t always manage it, but then her definition of exciting was thankfully wide. “Exciting” meant making fairy cakes with Mummy, or turning the house into an obstacle course with the furniture, painting the box Papa’s new wheelbarrow came in and making it become a wendy house. Exciting was out of the ordinary – a day to remember, mark and look back on. She gave us lots of those. She nagged us till we knocked the old garage down so we could lay some grass. We prepared the ground ourselves and that day, long after the rest of us were bored and tired, she was out there in the dusk raking the earth. She was unstoppable, until she was stopped.
On previous anniversaries we took breakfast and games to the beach, saw West End shows and climbed the Trafalgar Square lions, drove miles for a music festival weekend, queued at a theme park where Papa was spun upside down till he went green – that sort of thing. This year we didn’t plan anything. Perhaps after this year of the black dog’s faithful shadowing, I’m no longer convinced that placing a colour filter over dark times is wise.
I woke up this morning worrying that not marking today was the beginning of forgetting. It’s nine years now, after all. Do I still have the right to mourn the lack of her in my life? I ask this question but the answer is meaningless. I still miss her every day, and I know that I’ll never not remember.
People say with the ease of the unbereaved or detached that “Juliette wouldn’t have wanted you to be sad. She’d have wanted you to have fun and remember the happy times.” Well, yes. It’s comforting to think of the dead as generous and magnanimous, but if my daughter is in death as she was in life, a little bit of her would have been annoyed if there were no tears after she left the party. “Why aren’t you taking pictures of me?” she demanded at Raphi first birthday, three weeks before she died. My egocentric, stage-hugging, beautiful, charming, funny, wise and delightful daughter that was here for too short a time. Yes, why didn’t I?
We all went to see the new Harry Potter movie this afternoon. When Steph and I were running earlier I remembered a forgotten link Juliette. Juliette loved Harry Potter, or “Harry Po’er” as she preferred. She thought it was funny to speak with an Essex accent, mostly because it annoyed the snob in me… She’d talk about birthday “coike” rather than “cake.” When I asked her to say it properly, she would mock my accent. “Keek. I’d like some birthday keek, Mummy.” The month before Juliette died, Dido was here with her children. They were all gripped with Harry Potter fever and had fantastic games in their grandparents’ garden. Elodie remembered today that both she and Annie had wanted to be Hermione. Juliette wanted to be a character no one had heard of.
|Elodie, Harry, Pierre, Juliette and Annie with wands aloft at Tatty and Grandpa’s, June 2002.|
There was too much death in the film for today, but it’s ok. Afterwards we ordered Chinese in a hungry, bad-tempered way but then Steph and I opened a bottle of rose, I lit Juliette’s candle and we all talked and laughed about lines from the film. That was the moment she would have loved.
We stopped by the churchyard after our run this morning. Although Juliette’s grave is across the road from our house, we don’t often go. She’s not there, amongst the ancient skeletons of people loved by others who are themselves long-dead. Today her plot was flowerless and overgrown with weeds, and the weather was chill and damp. I was struck at how this should have made me sad, especially today, but that it didn’t.
The stone has weathered since we placed it there. The letters are not as sharp, and green lichen has taken a foothold in the grooves. I know I still find the words and carved images beautiful and uplifting, but why did it make me almost happy to see it like this? Perhaps weathering is the starkest of all reminders that my loss is no longer fresh.
The carved crab represents Juliette’s courage. We went crabbing and she picked one up, after studying how some boys near us managed it. The rest of us were too frightened of being nipped to help. This fearlessness and sense of adventure sums her up, in that nothing scared her or stopped her from having fun. Not even leukaemia. The shells echo a long walk we took between Walberswick and Southwold a few days before she died. We both collected them. She put some in my coat pocket, and I found them only after she died. She also found a stone with a hole all the way through on that walk. “That’s really good luck, Mummy!” The ‘lucky’ stone is on our bedroom windowsill now, put there in a mood of bitterness but I can’t take it down.
In the end today was just another day without Juliette, but a day with fringes of sadness because it marks another year that she hasn’t been here. I think that’s the best that can be expected, isn’t it?